April 6, 2020

Caught In The Coronavirus Pandemic


As I write this, the world is caught up in the middle of the Chinese Coronavirus Pandemic. What to say about it is anybody's question and nobody's answer. So many words, mostly coming out of anxious times of government-mandated social isolation and a reported major spreading of the virus. "The suffering is great!" "There is no end in sight!" And on ... and on! Communications in social media and news reports all say, "It is very hard to ....." There are no words to state what may be known, because what is known is not really known at all. Government, ecomony, health systems, every thing in this world that people trust is at some level of ineptitude. Everyone, and all things, are caught up in the pandemic. What's left is a longing for a freedom that no one knows how to describe.

This pandemic has brought upon us such a discouraging view of the world we're living in now. It's a view that dominates the news and social media, a picture of all that's wrong with life as we know it. It's dark and depressing! It's how life appears, it turns out, when God is removed from the picture. It's what happens when we choose to live in the shadows of our own "wisdom" and by the selfishness of our own shortsighted agendas. Without God, we deny any ultimate reality. We're left to wallow in our own limited and perverted realities. It's such a discouraging view of life!  And whether we admit it or not, we're all caught up in it to one degree or another.

This destressing picture of life in the coronavirus pandemic revolves around a simple plot. We humans want to be free, but there seems to be no such thing as true freedom. What we really have is an inescapable paradox. God offers refuge from the burden of pandemic realities by asking us to share His burden. It turns out that true freedom is not the absence of the coronavirus pandemic, but rather the acceptance of its limitations on us.  Us humans tend to get this backwards. We work to get all we can out of the situation at hand when, in fact, we are made to give all we can in lieu of it. We consume constantly, when sacrifice is the path to true joy. We find it hard to believe that we're most free when we are yielded to God and share His suffering in this troubled pandemic world. One thing is sure! Without God, things finally have no meaning and nothing can remove the fear and anxieties in our lives. We find the answer to being caught in the pandemic when we end our frantic pursuit of our own happiness and security and seek God with all our hearts.

So, what are we to do during these weeks and months of being caught in the coronavirus pandemic and quarantined or "sheltered in place?"  We are to live for the moment, enjoy what little we can, and quit looking blankly at the distressing reports of the "terrible situation" were in. We have to come to terms with life as it really is - scary, fragile, frustrating, and yet yielding flickers of hope. Being alive during the coronavirus pandemic and believing in God requires being caught in paradox. The two realities are side-by-side, sometimes colliding, sometimes truing away from each other. On the one hand, the world is a mess! The "invisible enemy" is everywhere and nowhere. It seems like there will be no end to it all! On the other hand, there's a mystery to the working of God in the world, one that we cannot easily see. God rules absolutely, but grants us freedom, which introduces the possibility of our bad choices bringing evil into the picture. Keeping balance in this paradox is the challenge for the faithful these days.

What we have to learn, through all of this, is that any true life we will ever have is a gift. God's favor will not, and cannot, be earned, but it is possible to receive it. The receiving is called grace. Joy can exist with distress. The gift is being able to look at this pandemic world, see it all, deny nothing, and still look up, trust, and smile with a vibrant hope in God. We're much more than the news of the day. We are made to share in God's life and work, and at the end of our days to rest in God's goodness and grace. Knowing this takes faith, patience, and eyes to see through the pandemonium of the pandemic. As we do, we finally come to see that we're not caught in it all, but free of it through faith in the wonderful presence of God.

December 8, 2019

What's Next, Papa?



This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, "What's next, Papa?" (Romans 8:15, MSG)

I was out last week celebrating my daughter-in-law's birthday. She had worked all day and needed a break, especially from cooking for the children. So, my wife and I met her and our three grandchildren at a restaurant. There's always much expectancy while waiting on a meal of Mexican food, getting ready to sit together and eat with those you love.  

While waiting for a table to seat the six of us, five-year-old Mason, came to sit by me. After we greeted and hugged, I began to point out the things to him which were around us in the waiting area - like the flower etched into the wooden bench we were sitting on and it's lack of roots. I then pointed out a potted plant nearby and mentioned that it had roots. Mason responded, "Or it couldn't grow."  I shared how Jesus' love is "planted" into our hearts to make us grow. I then asked what he wanted for Christmas. He showed me how he would operate a WE Game that he was hoping to get. I always have as much to learn from my grandchildren as they do from me.

We finally got seated, ordered and ate our meals. It was such a blessing to spend time with my family. The table conversation was generally about the issues of the day and how things were going at work and school. After the dinner was complete and the bill paid, we got up to leave. As I was putting on my coat, I overheard Mason say to his mom, "I want to go home with grandpa." My heart melted right then and there. It was like God tapping on the shoulder to get my attention. Mason's words rang in my ears the glad joy of little children and their simple faith. I hugged him and said, "We'll be getting together soon at Christmas." His eyes gleamed at the prospect of that day. So did mine!

Today I have been especially happy in the Lord. My love relationship with my heavenly Father is growing and showing. My roots are deep in God's love. The hard times I've been going through lately, in my prayerful search to better understand and accept the importance of the cross of Christ in my life, are beginning to meld into joyful realities. It is all about the resurrection life made possible by Jesus' death on the cross, new life growing up from the roots of God's love in my heart. It's adventurous and expectant! It's a childlike questing for more of Jesus, like my grandson, Mason, asking "What's next, Papa?" 

The best part is knowing that there is more to come, that my heavenly Father has such wonderful things ahead for me. He's really looking forward to my time with Him. He promises He's going to give me the most incredible, unbelievable inheritance, all coming by His grace through my faith in Jesus. And even better - I get to share it with Mason!




November 17, 2019

When the Dark Days Come




Dark days are hard to bear, but I'm learning that they're an important part of the cross-bearing life. The times of testing continue to come. Just when everything seems on the up-and-up and almost as a surprise, the bottom to falls out and whatever understandings I had experienced of God's goodness and grace go with it. My ego is purged and my heart purified. And it hurts! I'm learning that this is the interior life of a disciple. It is, for me, a hidden and invisible experience. It's the Spirit of Christ calling me from the shallows to the deep. 

I'm thankful the dark days don't happen very often. There have been many who have gone down the dark path before me. I'm not alone!  It's also reassuring to learn that growth-in-faith is not far away. The clouds may cover in darkness, but the sun shines through. Praise God! His mercy never fails and His steadfast love endures forever. 

God is working in the darkness. If I surrender in trust to this truth, I will find Jesus in a new way. It marks the beginning of a deeper life of faith, where joy and peace abound even in the darkness - the deeper life of faith that Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. The new way of finding Jesus is realizing that God is in the darkness. It is there I go to meet Him. It is there I pray in peace, silent and attentive to Him whose love knows no shadow of change. It is there I celebrate the darkness in the quiet certainty of my maturing faith. 

What happens to me in the dark day is simple. God strips me of my current understandings of His grace, so He can enter more fully into my heart. Maturing faith in Christ comes when I allow God the freedom to work His sovereign will within me, neither letting go of my attained life of prayer in frustration nor giving in to the distractions of the world. Prayer, humility, detachment and faith are beautiful graces, but I can only have them through the purging of God's grace. It's in this purifying process that I'm prepared to more fully receive God's gifts. 

I know, but often forget that the humility of Jesus is most clearly seen in His forgiveness and acceptance of others - even His enemies. In contrast, continuing resentments show that the cross-bearing life is not fully mine yet. The surest sign of union with Christ is my forgiveness and acceptance of others. Without this action on my part the dark day moves into the dark night, resulting in my troubled heart. Forgiveness is the key to everything.* Through my forgiveness the mind of Christ is formed within me and the darkness is prevented from becoming an ego trip. Forgiveness guards me from feeling so spiritually advanced that I look down on my struggling brothers and sisters. It's in humble forgiveness that we have the mind of Christ. 

The final repudiation of the ego is the surrender of our need for vindication, the handing over of the kingdom of self to the Father, and the forgiving in our heart of others. When we do this faithfully, we're not being afraid of the dark, but celebrating the light that shines though it and give us all life in Christ.
_________

* From The Signature of Jesus by Brennan Manning

July 30, 2019

Thinking About the Cross-Bearing Life




Jesus says that to be His disciple, we must take up our cross daily and follow Him. That means we accept our own wounds and limitations as being nailed to the cross of Christ and fully surrendered to Him. Jesus completely takes on Himself all our pain and suffering. So, we completely identify our lives with Jesus - what He stands for and what He wants to accomplish through us. Our human frailties, which have caused us many painful experiences, we now fully accept and surrender to Christ. He has experienced our pain and suffering and made it His pain and suffering. Our lives are made fully complete through faith in Jesus - and in Him alone. 

In identifying with the crucified Christ, we enter into the work that He finished on the cross for us - His taking upon Himself all our sins and transgressions. It was all included in His cry, "My God, My God, why have You forsakened me?" (Mt 27:46) This was the moment of our redemption. His cry upon the Cross was our cry of alienation from God. And now, by completely surrendering to Him, our cry is taken up into His cry and transformed by His resurrection. Rather than condemning ourselves for our weaknesses and making self-conscious efforts to try to be better, we surrender ourselves completely to the crucified Christ who shed His blood on the cross for us. There is no way of healing from our pain and suffering except through the love of Jesus that forgives seventy times seven and keeps no score of wrongdoings. 

The unmistakable sign of Christian disciples who have actually experienced the forgiveness of Jesus is the Spirit-given capacity to forgive their enemies. Jesus says, "Love your enemies and do good, then you will have great reward and be a child of the Most High, for He is kind to the ungrateful and to the selfish." (Lk 6:35) Jesus, the crucified Christ, is not only an example to the people of God. He is the living power and wisdom of God who empowers them to reach out hands of healing to those who have hurt them. As we more clearly hear Him pray for His murderers, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Lk 23:34), He will turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. At the foot of the cross of Jesus we are all forgiven enemies of God, who are empowered by His love to extend forgiveness to others. 

In the agony of the cross Jesus said: "I know every moment of the sin, selfishness, dishonesty and degraded love that has disfigured your life. Yet I do not judge you unworthy of compassion, forgiveness and salvation. Now be like that with others. Judge no one." It's only when we claim with heartfelt conviction the love of the crucified Christ and risen Lord, that we can overcome all fear of judgement. As long as we continue to live as if we are what we do, as if we are what we have, as if we are what other people think of us, we will remain filled with judgments, evaluations and condemnations. We will continue to feel the need to "put people in their place." To the extent that we embrace the truth that our core identity is not rooted in our successes nor our popularity but in the passionate, pursuing, "reckless" love of God embodied in His crucified Son - to that degree we let go of our need to judge others. We become free from the need to judge others by claiming for ourselves this foundational truth: "I am a child of God." We are loved by our heavenly Father. This is what Jesus means when He says, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged." (Mt 7:1) John says it this way, "In love there is no room for fear." (1 Jn 4:18)

The only true wisdom we have is our own experience of the love of the crucified Christ. It's our awareness that nothing - not the negative judgments of others, not our wrongful perception of ourselves, not our scandalous past, nor our fear, guilt, and self-loathing, not even death - can separate us from the love God made visible to us on the cross of Calvary. This awareness is where our true wisdom resides. There is no substitute for the gospel. It is the power and wisdom of the crucified Christ. When we are dying, we shouldn't want some trendy words given by someone for our comfort. Instead, we should want a priestly minister of God. We should want one who has struggled with his or her faith and still clings to Jesus. We should want somebody who has looked long and lovingly at the crucified Christ and experienced the healing only found in our risen Savior and Lord. 

It's the suffering Christ who "loved us and gave Himself up for us" (Eph 5:2) on the cross. The love of Jesus Christ on the cross is the divine reality. Our true lives are utterly incomprehensible except in terms of Jesus' love. Would we have remained with Mary Magdalene and John at the foot of the Cross as Jesus was murdered in the most brutal and dehumanizing way? And if we would've spoken to Mary and John of Christian life, ministry, prayer or discipleship, we would've surely spoken of Jesus nailed to the cross and now risen in glory - or not at all. We wouldn't have burdened them with our theological insights, or bored them with our ministerial successes or our gifts or anything else. We would be certain that they would've had only one question for us: Do you know Jesus? 

________________

* As a faithful Protestant, I'm coming to terms with Brennan Manning's The Signature of Jesus. I believe that many of Jesus' disciples don't have a clear understanding of the crucified Christ. I'm  thankful for clarifications made by Robin Riggs in The Lifestyle of the Cross and Rankin Wilbourne in The Cross Before Me.

December 1, 2018

Concentrating on the Cross of Christ




Oswald Chambers writes about knowing the "energy of God." He says that to know this energy we have to "brood on the tragedy of God" - the tragedy of Calvary and the meaning of Redemption.*  Instead, we choose to focus our preaching and witnessing interests on the spiritual trappings of the faith. How to live the Christian life is important, but it's not what is central to our faith. The central focus of our faith is the Cross of Jesus. When we concentrate on the results of our faith in Jesus' Cross, we lose the energy of God in our lives - the resurrection life of Jesus. We lose the power of God when we don't concentrate on the Cross. Chambers goes on to say that if we pay attention to the objective Source, the Cross of the crucified Christ, then the subjective results of our faith in Jesus' Cross will be realized in our daily lives. 

The effects of the Cross are salvation, sanctification, healing, wholeness of life, etc. But we are not to focus on any of these. These are not where the energy of our faith comes from. We are to focus upon and witness to Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (1 Corinthians 2:2-5) The power of God's love is only released in our lives by focusing on the Cross. When we proclaim the love of God, revealed most clearly by His death upon the Cross, the Holy Spirit will bring His desired results.  We're to concentrate our preaching/teaching on the Cross of Christ. And those who hear, though they may appear to not be paying any attention, will never be the same again. The Spirit of God will do His work in them, drawing them closer to God through the redemptive work of Christ crucified. 

If we talk our own talk, it's of no more importance to those who hear us than their talk is to us.  But if we talk the truth of God - the Cross of Jesus - the results will be God's will. We have to concentrate on the great point of spiritual energy - the Cross. If we keep in contact with that center, where all the power lies, the energy of God will be let loose for all to see and hear. Then God will save and transform lives, and all the effects of saving faith in Jesus will be evident - but only through Christ and Him crucified. 

In holiness movements and spiritual experience meetings the concentration is often put not on the Cross of Christ, but on the effects of believing in the crucified Christ. Such churches become weak and feeble. The main reason for the feebleness is lack of focus upon the source of spiritual energy - the tragedy of God upon the Cross. The biblical focus is on the Cross of Christ and the redemptive power of God's love in Christ crucified. 

Alas, and did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die? 
Would He devote that sacred head For such a one as I?

Was it for crimes that I have done, He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown! And love beyond degree!

Well might the sun in darkness hide, And shut His glories in,
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died For man the creature's sin.

But drops of grief can never repay The debt of love I owe:
Here, Lord, I give myself away, 'Tis all that I can do!

At the Cross, at the Cross, Where I first saw the light, 
And the burden of my heart rolled away,
It was there by faith I received my sight, 
And now I am happy all the day!+

______________

* In his devotional book My Utmost for His Highest, "The Concentration of Spiritual Energy"
+ Hymn by Isaac Watts (1674-1748), "At the Cross"

October 6, 2018

Being Made New in God's Image





A main goal in life is being made new in God's image. The way to become the man God has created me to be is to be made new in His image. This happens by recognizing and celebrating God's holiness, which leads me to yearn for His holiness reflected in my life. It's a life-long realization and pursuit. And though it is the greatest of all privileges to become the man God wants me to be, it's pursuit is fraught with avoidance and excuse.

The whole idea of a holy life seems so unreal. It seems like an outdated religious ideal, made for those who have dreams of an impossible perfection or who want to appear better than they really are. We've all seen the disgraced ministers and priests in the news. It seems sometimes that we're just asking for trouble when we claim to be like Jesus! Besides, no one wants to be a marginalized prude. And on and on goes the reasons for resisting holiness. But the call of the Lord to holiness also goes on and on, as well. 

Jesus calls us to resist the usual reasons and questions we have about holiness and make up our minds to reverence and live in awe of God's holy name. In the prayer He taught us, Jesus says, "When you pray, say, 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.'" To hallow God's name goes beyond being respectful or showing reference for it. Hallowing God's name means we are transformed as we do it. It means we are being made new in God's image. In the process of hallowing His name, we become hallowed by the transforming grace of God. Sinful resistance, of course, is there, and it is strong at times. But God's grace is stronger!

I've been reading and lately from Dr. Barry L. Callen's book, The Prayer of Holiness - Hungry People. In it Dr. Callen says that sin is "insisting on doing my things my way for my own pleasure by myself." (p. 46)  That pretty well sums it up. Living in sin defies God and leads to self destruction. It's the opposite of what God intends for me. I am created by God to live in loving relationship with Him, with my spouse and with others. If I focus on myself and my pleasure, instead of looking to Jesus and seeking God's will for my life, then I destroy the hope of having a future worth living. It's as simple as that! 

Life isn't about me; it's about God's only Son, Jesus Christ. It's about the life He lived, the death He died on the cross, and the hope He gave us through His resurrection. Jesus is the One who sits at the right hand of the Father and comes to live with us, and in us, by the power of the Holy Spirit. God is with us right where we are. I drop to my knees in amazement and adoration of the holy One, then rise to my feet fully embraced by that same One who has chosen to walk with me through life. I am being made new in God's image. Hallelujah! Amen!




June 18, 2018

A Pardoning God



I know God as a pardoning God. My God never let's me go. He waits for me when I wander from His love. He's like a Father waiting for His son to return to Him. (Luke 15) Wherever I wander, sometimes far and other times not so far, He's there. He is there beckoning me to come home to Him. (Psalm 139) God is there. He's there for me. He holds my spirit close to His heart. His love will never let me go. He waits for me.

I constantly pray: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy Upon Me, A Sinner." For I have sinned "against heaven and You." I don't have to sin, now, but I still make errors in judgment and mistakes in my choices. I still live in sinful flesh. So, I need a forgiving heavenly Father, whose love will not let me go and who is waiting for me - no matter what trouble I get into by my sometimes wandering ways.

My God is a pardoning God.

May 26, 2018

God Tests Us Through Difficult Decisions


Of all the decisions I've made through out the years, and many of them have been life-changing, the one to surrender to God's will for ministry has been the most difficult. I've walked that way before. I've struggled with the choices before me. I've agonized in prayer. I've reviewed all the options facing me a thousand times. And it always comes down to taking that simple step of faith, the one God has given me to at the time. God tests us! Never easy, it's all about allowing Jesus to work His will out in my life. It's all about saying "Yes" to the Lord, then acting on our faith.

About a year ago I came back to the Church of God (Anderson), the "prodigal son" coming home (from the United Methodist Church) to his roots in God's church. Such a blessing it was for me to be welcomed back into the fellowship, completely forgiven and joyfully recognized by my brothers and sisters in the faith. I've been so blessed during this time to have a pastoral visitation and discipleship teaching ministry almost immediately supplied by my home church (Shartel Church of God, Oklahoma City), as if I had never left in the first place. I am happy in the ministries I have now. 

But there remained a question in my mind - the possibility of serving another church. Having had various vocational ministries in the Church of God (Home Missionary, Senior Pastor, U.S. Army Reserve Chaplain), and still having some strength and presence of mind in this 70-year-old body to offer the Lord and His church, I had been thinking about another stint as a Senior Pastor or Interim Pastor. I make all my ministry decisions with my wife, Barbara. She has always been a main-stay in my ministry decisions. Without her, I simply wouldn't have made it at all in any ministry. So, we were thinking about it.

The decision to act on faith is what Jesus has always wanted from me. The Gospels are full of instances when Jesus marveled at the faith of those who came to Him. Time and again Jesus asked His disciples, "Where is your faith?" In every situation, and through out Jesus' life on earth, His question for us is always "And when the Son of Man returns, will He find faith on the earth?" My answer is still,"Yes Lord, Yes!" Here I am! I will go wherever You want me to go and do whatever You want me to do. The further test, though, is whether or not we will actually do His will.

A time of prayer ensued after Barbara and I decided to go. Then, just as we were ready to call the realtor and put our house up for sale - to actually do what the Lord was calling us to do - He opened our mind to remember father Abraham and Isaac. God tested Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, and offer him as a sacrifice. He bound his son, placed him on the altar, and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord stopped him from killing the boy and said, "Now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son from me." (Genesis 22)

Barbara and I looked at each other and realized together that what the Lord has always wanted from us is still what He wants today. More than anything, God wants to know that we "fear" Him and will hold nothing back from following His will for our lives. That's the most difficult decision. The test, though, is whether we're willing to act on the decision. It's not until God knows that you will act, that He will give you His blessing. And I am thankful to say today that Barbara and I are blessed!


February 19, 2018

The Truth of the Historic Vision of the Church of God



Dr. Gilbert W. Stafford, a 20th century Christian theologian, preacher and teacher, asks a critical question: "Are we genuinely committed to the historic vision of what it means to be the church that is pleasing to God?"  The context in which he poses this question is as a part of the Church of God (Anderson, IN) Reformation Movement at the beginning of the 21st century, heading into a post-denominational Christian church era in America and wondering if the Movement, which is founded on the strong belief that denominations are not biblical, will be able to survive the transition. Without a denominational-organizational structure, what will prop up the Movement and assure that it will continue to exist after more than one hundred and twenty-five years? He comes to the conclusion, and rightly so, that only as the truth of its historic vision is lifted up, celebrated and lived out will the Movement continue on into the future.

What Dr. Stafford is talking about is what he calls a "visionary connectedness," which has been given to the Church of God Movement as a witness to the world and the Christian church of an expression of the one, universal church, by the power of the Holy Spirit according to the teaching of the New Testament. He makes it clear that our responsibility as a particular part of God's church is to faithfully preach, teach and practice the truth of its historic vision and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.

From the beginning of the Church of God Reformation Movement, founded in the Midwest region of the United States in the early 1880s, there has been a visionary connectedness of God's people, who believe that they have been called to live out the implications of Christ's New Covenant. Theirs was a fresh commitment to be God's new people, living holy lives in a unified church. And so is our commitment! We are connected as the inheritors of a rich, religious tradition, as Bible believing disciples who are returning to Bible truth and moving ahead with a historic vision of the church. The church we see is the Church of God. It is alive, holy, one, and belongs to God.*

Despite the deadening effects of denominationalism, and the apathy of many, even in our own churches, God's church is still alive and well. The Church of God is not a human organization, but a living organism which has been brought into being by God and is alive with His living presence and power. Whatever the opposition, God's church is alive. (Mathew 16:18) 

God's church is also a holy church. It is a church which only exists in a given place as the living family of God. Holiness has always been a central conviction of the Church of God. Scripture is plain: "As He who called you is holy, be holy yourselves," and "In all things grow up into Him who the Head, that is , Christ." The Church of God is holy as its members are sanctified and grown-up in Christ.

Since we have been grafted into the living, holy body of Christ, we are one with each other in that one body. The perfect love of God unites us ALL in Jesus. The Church of God becomes impatient with Christians who refuse to accept and love each other. To walk in the way of holiness is to renounce the sin of sectism and stand together for the truth as it is in Jesus. We are free in Christ - together.

Finally, God's church belongs to God. We didn't found the Church of God; it found us. We don't choose its members; we embrace all who are members by God's choice. We don't govern it with a heavy hand; we participate in it with a humble heart. It isn't enough to rely on our past understandings and achievements. Nor is it enough to be learning from our present church leaders and counting on them to filter out all the obstacles before us. Christ, and Christ alone, is the Head of His church. God's church has always been, is now, and will always be God's church.

This is the church we see. The truth of its historic vision is the truth which has brought the Church of God into existence and will continue to guide its life. The Church of God - alive, holy, one, divinely ruled ... May God help us to be on our way, toward the goal of a holy, unified church for a dark and divided world.

___________________________

* These characteristics of the Church of God were first heard by the ministers of the General Assembly during the Anderson Campmeeting in 1993 in a sermon preached by Dr. Barry L. Callen entitled "Core Convictions of the Church of God." (I've shared the entire text of that sermon in an earlier blog post by the same title.) I was one of the ministers there that day.


December 11, 2017

A Fresh Focus on Holiness



There has never been a time in greater need of the message of holiness.* Pastors and leaders are seeking ways to revitalize their congregations, and it's not working. Churches are in decline. In my church group, Church of God (Anderson, IN), there are half as many congregations as there was twenty five years ago (in my state of Oklahoma). The power and health of churches have been drained by the continual search for a better way of doing church or newer and bigger programs. In the process our people have become ineffective and have fallen prey to the effects of the world around them. Churches are terribly in need of a clear, compelling message as their focus instead of chasing church growth methods.

Many church leaders have become hostages of various kinds of culture-driven success mentalities that are concerned more with "how" to do church instead of the more important matter of "what" the church is all about. In the process our leaders have lost the ability to lead, because they have no compelling message. Many know they've lost their leadership and long to find a message that makes a difference. More than ever, they long to have a deep understanding of God's call to holiness. They want a mission. They want a message!

The people of our churches, especially in my church group, are looking for a future without having to live in the past. They are looking for a way to get back to the blessed old Bible and the light of its word without returning to what has been, but by returning to the Source of that which has been. They need to take a walk in the woods like one young minister named Daniel S. Warner did on December 13, 1877. He wrote in his journal, "The day was mild and fair. Took a walk in the woods to commune with God. Thought much about the words of God, 'I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel ... they shall be my people.'" (Jeremiah 31:31,33) Then he wrote, "Amen, LORD. I am Yours, forever. Fill me with Your presence, now. LORD, reveal Yourself in me. At Your feet I humbly bow to receive the holy seal." That day he found the core, the center, the essence of God's call. And he spent the rest of his life passing it on to others. It's the Source of our call today. That is our message. That is our mission!

People are tired of petty lines of division that create denominations and institutions. They long for a clear message that transcends differences among the followers of Jesus Christ. They want to know the unifying power of God. They want to see the awesomeness of God's holiness that moves us to oneness in the testimony of God's power. They accept diversity among Christ's followers, but they want to know that churches and leaders believe that we in the church of God are one. They want a message that is unifying, that comes from God who is the essence of unity in diversity. They want a fresh focus on holiness - the heart of the Bible for all Christians of all times ... even ours!

________________

* This post was spurred on by a 2006 document entitled "The Holiness Manifesto," written jointly by church leaders and scholars representing various Wesleyan, Holiness and Pentecostal traditions of Christianity. It can be found in the 2008 book by that name, edited by Kevin Mannoia and Don Thorsen and published by Eerdmans of Grand Rapids.